How not to be a jerk: pay attention to signal timing

When I had a sprained ankle, I got passed a lot on the bike. And I noticed, even more than I had noticed before, that after people passed me, I frequently caught up to them. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have passed me, but it does mean that when they passed me dangerously, or when they passed me and then obstructed my start out of the intersection where I caught up to them, I really noticed how little that pass gained them, and how it sometimes inconvenienced me as well. That’s being a jerk — and not only that, it’s being a jerk to no purpose.

How do you avoid that? Well, first of all, don’t be a jerk to begin with. Whether you’re driving or riding, pass safely, leaving plenty of room, and only on the left. If you’re riding, only pass when traveling; don’t shoal at intersections. But second of all, pay attention to signal timing. Traffic signals work in systems (I think everyone knows at least that much) so if you pay attention and experiment, you can figure out when a signal is likely to turn green or red. On one-way streets in Portland, the lights usually operate in a “green wave” at a certain speed, and frequently, thanks to the awesome Peter Koonce, that speed is approximately average bike speed, or is compatible with it. Even if it’s not a full green wave, you can usually figure out which lights you’re likely to end up stopping at. I’ve spent a lot of time commuting up and down Broadway, Vancouver/Williams, and the Hawthorne/Ladd/Clinton corridor, and all of those corridors have key signals (the longer red signals at major cross streets) which you tend to depart from at certain times that make for relatively predictable timing of the rest of the experience.

Newsflash: usually, after you passed me on those corridors, somewhere on NE Broadway, along Hawthorne, in Ladd’s, or on the slope between Russell and Fremont, I caught up to you at Seven Corners, or one of the ends of the Broadway Bridge, or at Fremont or Shaver or Russell or Broadway. Whether you saw me or not, I was right behind you. Occasionally, someone’s really fast or really lucky, but most people? It makes absolutely no difference whether you blast up from the Broadway Bridge toward Williams or just go along comfortably — you’ll end up waiting at Vancouver/Winning for that long light to finish before you can move on to Broadway or Williams. Rushing through the light at Emmanuel? Don’t bother — Russell doesn’t go green that fast, and after it does, you’ll still have to wait at Vancouver and Broadway.

Some of this is bike-specific. Seeing yellow at Victoria on Broadway? Don’t rush — you won’t get the bike signal at Williams until after the LBI for Victoria anyway. That doesn’t apply for cars, for whom the timing is different, but the takeaway is the same: cool it and wait your turn; we’ll still all make it through. And next time you’re stymied, pay attention to the signal timing.

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